Residents packed the Chelsea City Council chambers on Monday, July 6 to speak in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance that specifically addresses sexual orientation.
Council Member Jane Pacheco brought forth the agenda item to develop a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance, which specifically includes the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
The discussion was a result of resident Tony Shakeshaft’s April 6 request to the City Council to consider a non-discrimination policy that protects the equality of all residents in the city.
“I feel a responsibility to the younger generation,” Shakeshaft said, adding that he and Thomas Toon were married on March 22, 2014 as the first gay male couple to do so in the county. Both men have raised children in the community.
Speaker after speaker – about 10 in all – expressed their support of an ordinance that would ensure that Chelsea was deemed an open and welcoming community. They spoke from different perspectives – some personal, some legal, some business — all in support of the city adopting such an ordinance.
According to the agenda item summary, 39 Michigan cities have “expanded their communities’ nondiscrimination policies.”
“By expanding non-discriminatory protections in Chelsea, we will continue to position our city as an inclusive and welcoming place to live and do business,” the agenda item states. “Many of our employers already have non-discrimination policies … these employers and the City of Chelsea seek to attract and retain a diverse workforce in a community where all people are treated fairly under the law.”
In February, 2012, the city approved a proclamation on equality and human rights but it neither specifically mentions the LBGT community, nor has any teeth.
Speakers expressed their desire to “set an ethical standard” and to define who Chelsea is as a community including longtime realtor Steve Eusades, who told the City Council that he, too, was in favor of an ordinance that would protect this group of people.
“There would be no negative fallout from realtors,” he said.
Also among the speakers was Chelsea resident Palmer Morrel Samuels, who said he does a lot of work in this area as an expert witness in discrimination cases and he’s seen this issue from both sides.
He said that enacting such an ordinance would not be redundant with existing law, (Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act), doesn’t ask for special privileges, isn’t a heavy burden, and does not risk litigation.
He called an ordinance of this type “like an insurance policy,” because “it clearly signals our intent not to discriminate.”
Just having it on the books, he said, will keep Chelsea out of court.
Although a majority of the City Council seemed to be in favor of such an ordinance, Council Member Rod Anderson was not.
He said that there is “no evidence for any discrimination in the city, so there’s no need for an ordinance” and that “people are concerned that such an ordinance might infringe on their religious liberty.”
The City Council agreed to hold a future work session on the topic after an attorney crafts an ordinance that would be specific to Chelsea.